Ryan McGinnis, back, is seen here working as an assistant coach for the ECHL's Norfolk Admirals last season. The Admirals are not playing this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Editor’s note: This article is the start of a series special to CollierSportsInsider.com that will focus on former Florida Everblades and where they are now. Throughout the season, several Everblades fan favorites will be interviewed, and we’ll see where life has taken them after playing for the Blades.
“I don’t even know words can really justify or Blades fans can really feel it through the interview and just words, but I can honestly say anytime I get the chance to come down to Southwest Florida in any fashion, whether it’s vacation or business, it means a lot to me in so many ways.”
Known for his role in the first and only Kelly Cup in Florida Everblades history, former fan-favorite defenseman Ryan McGinnis is currently spending his days at the top of the organizational ranks working as general manager and assistant coach of the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals.
McGinnis, who now has a wife and two kids, still loves to visit in Estero, where he feels he did a lot of growing as a young adult. Splitting time with Florida and the American Hockey League’s Albany River Rats as a 21-year-old rookie, McGinnis got his first taste of professional hockey with one of the Blades’ best regular-season teams — a team that posted the second-best goal differential (+82) in franchise history.
“Whenever I was down in the ECHL, Florida was a great place to go to and, in fact, I liked it so much that I called it home once my career was done,” McGinnis said. “Everything from the top down, I think the foundation there is good, with affiliation, with the ownership, and with the standard in which they live by was really nice to be around. Part of me growing up and knowing and doing the right things was partially because of the Everblades organization.”
McGinnis spent two seasons splitting time with Kalamazoo and the AHL’s Manitoba Moose before finding his way back to Southwest Florida, where he played his final two seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13) in an Everblades uniform. But what Blades fans remember vividly was the 2011-12 season as their team finally achieved the ultimate goal they had chased since being created in 1998: they hoisted the Kelly Cup.
That Kelly Cup group had a different feel to them as most championship teams do, but they were fueled by emotion after barely finding their way into the playoffs after a hectic year in the South Division. Before the championship run, bad news found its way into the Blades locker room, as defenseman David Fischer learned that his mother was ill. The Blades and Fischer set out on a mission to win the Kelly Cup not only for themselves and their fans but also for Fischer’s mom.
They accomplished that goal in impressive fashion.
“What made that team different than all the others that I had played on was just a quiet confidence, whether we were up or down, whether we had a lot of call-ups, injuries, etc … ,” McGinnis said. “We just believed in the group, the players, that we were able to come away victorious. And that was a really fun group. I still talk to some of those guys today. But the group was talented. We were competitive. We knew that even though you could be playing one game, you could be in the stands the next; so even though that you were talented, and you were producing, that’s just how loaded we were with talent at that time. So, it was a great year, one that I always remember.
“I liked it so much I ended up calling Estero home for five years after my career was done there.”
As many Everblades players often talk about, the fans in Southwest Florida made McGinnis’ experience here all the more positive.
“The fans mean a lot,” he said. “They show up. They’re passionate and educated on the game, and they understand this league and (the) logistics of everything. A lot of the same fans are there today that were there when I was 13 years ago. Great following, educated, committed people and they are a lot of fun to be around. It’s a great place to live and great fans to play in front of. It’s the entire package. The fans are a big part of it all.
“The (team) foundation year to year is really good and no different than the fan base. What they’ve done a really good job of down there in Florida is to have the same foundation year over year. Whether it be (General Manager) Craig Brush or whether it be (Vice President of Business Development) Chris Palin. How many years was Bubba, God rest his soul, involved with the Booster Club? John Sellars (equipment manager) has been there for seven years, which at this level … it’s those things that are kind of unheard of.”
McGinnis has dived into the world of hockey operations. Soon after his on-ice career ended, he began teaching hockey to younger players in the Fort Myers area with McGinnis Hockey Development. A few years later, he found himself adding the additional responsibility of coaching a U18 AAA club — across the country from where he called home for so long — when he became coach of the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes.
McGinnis spent a season with the Jr. Coyotes before unexpectedly receiving a call from Indy Fuel coach Bernie John a few weeks before the start of the ECHL season.
“The truth of the matter is it’s just luck. It’s just luck,” McGinnis said. “I went out there to Phoenix to coach the U18 team, and my wife had a good job, and we collectively committed to doing that. But over that year I evolved, and I knew that I wanted to do this as a profession. So, it had become late in the summertime, and I got a phone call from Indy head coach Bernie John, not even interviewing me, he just offered me the job. And in large part because it was five days before training camp and the assistant coach that was hired before me had some medical problems which had to put him on the sideline for the season. So, they needed somebody quick and in a whim.”
McGinnis spent the next two seasons with the Fuel building on his coaching knowledge and applying what he learned as a player and leader in the locker room. A lot of what he did as a player directly transferred over to how he applied his coaching.
“You’re not going to win a championship in November,” McGinnis said. “Staying committed and sacrificing as a hockey player … you make a lot of sacrifices in any sport, for that matter, or anything that you want to do to be successful. But there have to be sacrifices made in hockey; it forced me to be that way and to do that. So now into coaching and management is no different in that regard. You have to be committed and make many sacrifices.”
After two years in Indy, McGinnis became assistant coach for the Norfolk Admirals (who belong in the ECHL’s South Division along with the Blades). Come Christmas time of 2019, in his first season with the Admirals, talks began about him taking over as general manager while also working as assistant coach. With COVID halting all sports across the globe in March, it wasn’t until the summer that McGinnis ended up getting promoted to GM. (And he was still part of the coaching staff for the upcoming season.)
However, as the season approached and uncertainty over COVID abound, the Admirals made the difficult decision to halt operations for the 2020-21 season. The news struck McGinnis hard as he had assembled a strong group for the upcoming season and was looking forward to cultivating a new culture in the Norfolk organization.
It took some time for McGinnis’ frustration to subside after having what looked to be a hopeful season for the Admirals suddenly scrapped.
“We had made strides in recruiting and we wanted a certain brand of hockey,” McGinnis said. “Certainly, playing in the South Division you roughly play about 80 percent of our games within the division, which means you’re going to face a lot of the same teams and players a lot. And with that comes emotion. So, you need leadership, you need experience, toughness, and those are all things that we tried to tackle.
“We weren’t done there. We had some good talent coming down the pipeline right before we had opted out. It was a tough, tough decision. And no doubt, I think everybody around here took it hard, which they should. It took me probably until Christmas just a couple of weeks ago to kind of get over it and get over myself. Now we’ve shifted to the 21-22 season, so it’s kind of helped to keep my mind busy as we prepare again for another season in nine months.”
When he isn’t building and scouting for the Admirals, McGinnis keeps himself busy by going back to his coaching roots — behind the bench for the USPHL’s Hampton Roads Whalers. Whether it’s stepping on the ice every morning to help coach during practice or showing the players video from their games and from the pro level, McGinnis stays involved with the team.
As the ECHL season nears the midway point, McGinnis plans to hit the road and watch the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and South Carolina Stingrays play — scouting the two teams closest to Norfolk geographically in the South division.
As he progresses behind the bench and in the front office, McGinnis is looking to step up in the hockey world.
“I think everybody should have goals; I think it helps,” McGinnis said. “Certainly, when you wake up and you have something that you’re working towards, I think that’s a recipe for success, or at least half the battle. My goal is to become a head coach at this level (ECHL) or be an assistant at the American Hockey League. Now that will change every year, just based on what happens where I’m at in my career, but I still want to push myself. (It’s) kind of no different than a player. You want to evolve and get to the next level. I take great pride in wanting to push myself outside of my comfort zone to become a head coach and get to the American Hockey League and then hopefully get to the National Hockey League.”